It seems like last year fans of loud music sat around talking about how the world had gone to shit and the only thing saving us from mental annihilation was quality heavy metal. Imagine if I told you back then that 2016 would claim dozens of our artistic heroes, the globe would descend into even more chaos and the status of our beautiful planet would turn out to be even more compromised than we ever thought possible.
It’s time we realize, as Arthur Schopenhauer said, “Life is a constant process of dying.” So are we really surprised that everything, save for the stock market, continues to decline at a rapid pace? Depressing, isn’t it? So let’s try to look at it another way.
Albert Camus says, in his work The Myth of Sisyphus, “There is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night.” For life does not require suicide, it requires revolt of the soul! We must imagine Sisyphus happily rolling his stone up the hill over and over and over and over and over and over, etc. Because his fate is also our own.
Consequently, it is only because we know plight, sadness and death that we know the joyful greatness of love, happiness and life. Music can be our escape – not an escape because we forget about the trial and travails of the regular world, but rather because we have taken the time to understand negative happenings and have chosen to live in the present and simply enjoy beautiful moments. In that way, a great album can be much like a great first date and, eventually, a great love. We owe it to everyone to never take our positions, advantages and interests for granted. We must vow to appreciate all ends of the spectrum of life so that we do not become numb to the either the horror or the beauty.
Point being: music rules when so much else in this world absolutely fucking sucks. So learn to appreciate the good sounds of music, for they are your armor against the horrors.
“No more fear. No more pain. It’s just a flesh wound. It’s just a fucking bloodstain.” – Spinebreaker
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This article wraps up my first year being on staff here at Last Rites. Despite how I treat my colleagues online (and privately) as Heavy D. might have said, “I’ve got nothing but love for” this crew. Being able to discuss music (not only metal) and argue at length while making these lists was my nerd heaven. Last year I was anxiously waiting for what the LR Crew would drop as their year end lists and this year I’m smack dab in the middle of this metal manwich. As Tony! Toni! Toné! Crooned, “It feels good.”
Also, a hearty thanks to the readers who click on these articles and take my opinion seriously for some reason. It’s a whole bunch of fun around here and, while I may not partake in commenting, please know that I read your comments and take them to heart. Music, much like visual art, is interpreted differently by nearly everyone who takes the time to digest the work and I’m interested in all those opinions. So please, keep them coming.
Now, let’s honor 2016 by taking a look not at what made it torturous, hellish and wrought with anger, sadness and death but, rather, the music made it great.
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Spinebreaker– Ice Grave
• Somewhere between southern California thrash, skatepunk, and the Gothenburg sound lies Spinebreaker. Producing no holds-barred death metal to be blasted at top volume, they are this year’s straight-forward banger.
Coffin Lust– Manifestation of Inner Darkness
• Coffin Lust show enough gumption across Manifestations of Inner Darkness to separate themselves from the masses of imposters of the old school.
Void Meditation Cult– Utter the Tongue of the Dead
• Void Meditation Cult fills a dark space in the metal world. Dark, serpentine and occult, Utter the Tongue of the Dead is simply unmatched in its ability to infect and horrify.
Ravensire– The Cycle Never Ends
• At its core a revival album in the vein of Manilla Road, Ravensire produce consistently top-notch work allowing them to be standouts in their category.
Ripper– Experiment of Existence
• An absolute ripper of an album, these Chileans procure absolutely unknockable death/thrash that hits all the perfect spots inside your dark, cavernous body.
Quicksand Dream– Beheading Tyrants
• A few bands used 2016 as a chance to re-emerge from extended hibernation. Quicksand Dream was one of those bands arising from sixteen years of slumber to deliver six tracks (31 minutes) of nearly perfect epic heavy metal. Fuck tyrants. Behead them.
Dysrhythmia– The Veil of Control
• Simply a master work of art showing all bands that attempt to produce jazz-inspired, dizzyingly brilliant music that is rythmically complex enough to have drummers drooling into their curly fries and heavier sounds exactly how it should be done.
• It’s hard to find an album in 2016 that was more catchy and spinnable than Sumerlands self-titled debut. Sumerlands made traditional metal sound fun, fresh and totally accessible to non-metal fans.
A.M.S.G.– Hostis Universi Generis
• Were 2016 not one of the most vicious years in history, this album could easily top the list. The best work of his career, Angelfukk Witchhammer absolutely dominated the year’s cosmic black metal scene with Hostis Universi Generis.
• A shockingly powerful debut, LP, Sentient sends a message about what their career is going to be about. Unrelenting in brutality yet evolutionarily aware enough to keep progressive and technical influences interwoven.
10. INVERLOCH – DISTANCE | COLLAPSED
The remaining crew of dISEMBOWELMENT, Mazziotta and Skarajew, dial back the clock of time and produce some of their more brilliant, beautiful, well-produced, funeral doom to date. Distance | Collapsed is a work that embraces all past eras of funeral doom while taking note of the current scene, particularly Evoken’s Atra Mors (particularly their guitarist) as well as looking forward to a future where funeral doom breaks out of its sluggish pace and combined some blackened elements of doom.
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9. ORANSSI PAZUZU – VÄRÄHTELIJÄ
Oranssi Pazuzu continued down their unique path of black metal. Using drone, atmosphere and a dizzying array of effects, Värähtelijä creates its own universe for the listener to inhabit. A work that is mesmerizing, brilliant with perhaps brighter production-wise than previous efforts, Värähtelijä maintains an atmosphere of a dark, foreboding, and metallic universe through use of chaos, noise, and simple repetition in which the listener will be unsafe but too curious to back out.
8. FATES WARNING – THEORIES OF FLIGHT
Connecticut heroes of progressive metal, Fates Warning, have been around since 1984, but they haven’t put out an album of this magnitude since 1988’s No Exit. They’ve shown flashes, but a complete effort like this – eight tracks nearing one hour of composition – hasn’t been seen in a long time. And it’s more than just welcome resurgence, it’s an absolutely fantastic record that isn’t merely for fans of progressive metal.
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7. IN THE WOODS… – PURE
After 17 full years of attending to different projects, In The Woods… returned to produce a monumental work. Pure was a shot in the dark from a band adept at never repeating themselves while maintaining a signature sound and ability. Weaving accessible yet progressive music, In The Woods… create layers upon layers of warm, comforting music underlied by subtle, expert keyboard work, an organ solo, and absolutely pitch perfect vocals. Prepare to be comforted and spooned like you have never been comforted and/or spooned before.
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6. CHTHE’ILIST – LE DERNIER CREPESCULE
Despite being largely a rehash of their demo, the strength of the album simply cannot be underrated. Expert production, mastering, and re-sampling support what is one of the single best death metal albums in the last three years. Gurgling vocals, harsh screams, excellent guitar work, fascinating keyboard work, and synth sampling, along with a very active, clean bass make for a fascinating journey through the desolate plains painted by Paolo Girardi for the cover.
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5. TREES OF ETERNITY – HOUR OF THE NIGHTINGALE
Hour of the Nightingale’s selling point is it captivating beauty. It’s easily the most emotionally draining album of 2016. A full three years in the making, the album shows that the band used that time to craft perfect compositions, edit appropriately and mix genres just enough to keep it interesting. It’s an album to cherish because you will never hear its equal. There will be no follow-up. This is it. Rest in peace, Aleah Stanbridge.
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4. ZEALOTRY – THE LAST WITNESS
The Last Witness is angular, technically proficient and not wholly separate from history. Like a heroin-addicted jazz musician nearing his demise, Temin grabs nuts and bolts, as well as flourishes and accessories, from genres across the board and weaves those influences and visions effortlessly. The Last Witness is an absolutely ceremonial, grandiose experimentation in the genre of death metal. Consider it high composition that is accessible to even the most novice of listeners.
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3. SPIRITUS MORTIS – THE YEAR IS ONE
Although Spiritus Mortis formed around 1990, they haven’t really gotten over the proverbial hump, coming closest on 2009’s The God Behind the God. That might be why The Year is One is such a remarkable album. Sami Hynninen turns in what is, to me, the clean vocal performance of the year. Discovering heights and vocal alterations previously unheard from him, he soars over what is some of the most refreshing and reassuring traditional doom produced in the last few years.
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2. KATATONIA – THE FALL OF HEARTS
Katatonia’s 10th full length was a doozie. And in the pantheon of Katatonia releases, I believe The Fall of Hearts will be top 3. The inclusion of additional percussion (JP Asplund) and Roger Öjersson on lead guitar, combined with what very well might be Jonas Renske’s best all-time vocal (and lyric) performance, makes for an absolutely killer Katatonia record. The Fall of Hearts is the sort of album to be spun endlessly until the sun explodes and engulfs the earth in a nuclear blaze of skin melting terror due to global warming.
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1. MITHRAS – ON STRANGE LOOPS
While some fans of Mithras will bemoan that On Strange Loops is not as groundbreaking or brutal as World’s Beyond the Veil, this 2016 effort is every bit as good, and perhaps even better. On Strange Loops is simply a compositional masterpiece. The interludes blend effortlessly with the heavier side of the album, the guitar work is phenomenal and the breakdown (yes, the one breakdown) is simply jaw-dropping. Plus, the vocal performance is spectacular, likely the harsh vocal performance of the year. Enough to make this 35 year-old risk injury to neck and back in the name of enjoyment.
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THREE EP’S OF NOTE
- Grave Miasma– Endless Pilgrimage: Had the band decided to call this 34 minute release an LP, as many might have, it clearly would have found a spot in the back half of my Top 20. As they labeled it an EP, it’s a shoo-in for the EP list. While a slight step down from Odori Sepulcrorum, Endless Pilgrimage is still a fantastic release of blackened death metal drawing from bands like Incantation, Pseudogod, and Immolation.
- Maligner– Demon: Hidden in the shadows of a few late season releases, Swedish band Maligner’s demo is pure, unadulterated death/thrash of the highest order. Demon is a bright star, even amid a very powerful year for metal – an EP that leaves you hungry for more.
- Necrosic– Putrid Decimation: Put together by Eric Cutler, Necrosic hails from Oakland, California and puts out some of the more exciting, solid death metal of the year. With Erika Osterhout holding it down on bass, their debut EP (pretty much a demo) is an endlessly exciting four-song release.
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TOP NON-METAL OF 2016
10. Tutti I Colori Del Buio– Initiation Into Nothingness
• These Italians dropped a debut LP that was simply aggressive, pure d-beat influenced, crust-laden punk rock. An absolute banger to be kept in the mix.
9. Darkher– Realms
• Essentially a very atmospheric and beautiful take on gothic-doom. The perfect music for rainy days, depressing naps in the forest, and long baths.
A band that never ceases to put forth their most aggressive effort, Martyrdöd’s 2016 release is likely their most complete work since their 2005 release In Extremis.
7. Alaric– End of Mirrors
• A study in all that is great about nearly three decades of largely British-driven post-punk and new wave style rock. The darkness, despair and questioning of existence aside, the music is damn catchy and hummable.
6. Pure Disgust– Pure Disgust
• These youngsters are here to revive that old sound of DC Hardcore crossed with punk. A fantastic self-titled debut full-length from the DC crew that has received shockingly widespread attention.
5. Worm Ouroboros– What Graceless Dawn
• Another chilling work of grace and refinement. Building slowly and paying off in dividends, be happy that the band is on our radar due to tangential ties to the scene by various members.
4. The Mission– Another Fall From Grace
• British gothic and post-punk band The Mission decided to capitalize on all the bands currently borrowing from their sonic archive. The Mission came back with a vengeance pumping out an album that holds up to the high bar the band set back in the late 1980s.
3. Virus– Memento Collider
• A band that could easily be confused as “deranged” rather than “artsy.” Memento Collider solidifies the fact that Virus is pure brilliance. Never derivative, always original and endlessly entertaining, this is an album ripe for any time.
2. New Model Army– Winter
• The resurgence of British post-punk greats New Model Army was a welcome addition to 2016. The lineup pulled through and made an album that not only stands up to, but enhances, the core of New Model Army’s collection.
1. A Tribe Called Quest– We Got It From Here, Thank You for Your Service
• The death of Phife Dawg shook fans of music to the core. Somehow, in the wake of all that, solace can be found in an album that is not only perfect sonically and lyrically, but is also appropriate and necessary in these unstable times.
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